Thursday, October 29, 2015

Prague and Cesky Krumlov in October Part Two

You can read about our Prague in October experience here. While in Prague, we made a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, a city in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, about 3.5 hours drive from Prague. 
Picture above: panoramic view of Cesky Krumlov and Vltava River, from a lookout point past the Castle Gardens. 

Besides its Cesky Krumlov Castle and UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Cesky Krumlov is also known for its fairytale-esque cityscape. This medieval town is infused with a relaxing ambience of Czech expression for Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural elements. 
Picture above: entrance to the town

Picture above: the famous Cesky Krumlov Castle Tower

Upon a close-up look at the Castle Tower, you can easily spot the trompe l'oeil painted on the bottom facade to mimic brickwork and windows. The huge panels of what-appear-to-be murals are actually canvas paintings hung along the tower. 

Picture above: Castle map

Picture above: Trompe-l'œil on the walls inside the Castle courtyards

Picture above: Trompe-l'œil onthe walls inside the Castle courtyards

The Cesky Krumlov Castle was undoubtedly spectacular, but I found the best part was to wander aimlessly and get lost on the cobblestone alleyways inside the old town. Main streets are lined with shops mostly selling amber and garnet jewelry which didn't pique our interest. Marionette is huge in Cesky Krumlov (they even have a museum for it), but since they freak me out the same way clown does, we took a pass. I would spend an hour at the Egon Schiele Art Centrum to complete your Cesky Krumlov experience. It's funny that Schiele was once driven out of CK by the residents who strongly disapproved of his lifestyle, but now they created a museum to worship his art. 

Picture above: the MLS Creperie inside a humble but unique adobe with vaulted ceiling, great for a quick coffee break

Picture above: Trdelnik, a traditional Slovak pastry

A typical shop facade on main street Cesky Krumlov. 

Picture above: view from Castle promenade

Thursday, October 22, 2015

New Art Over Fireplace

Back in the summer I was approached by Jenn from 1st Art Gallery to review their oil painting reproduction service. Being an art lover and collector, and a strong believer of that all you need is art, I immediately said Yes. 

I was directed to their website to choose from the 250,000 paintings 1st Art Gallery has in their stock images. It was a bit overwhelming at first, and I was quickly lost in a sea of options: impressionism or abstract? classic or modern? landscape or portrait? pastel or moody colours? The biggest challenge was that any of the above would work in my living room, but I couldn't choose them all. After going back and forth a few times in my head, I decided that a more classic Impressionism (my favourite art movement) painting would be a more timeless choice for my home; and of late I was really into portrait, so an Impressionism portrait painting it was. 

Screenshot below from 1st Art Gallery web site: after I selected the "Impressionism" movement, I was prompted to a page where I could pick the paintings by orientation, artist, color and subject. 

I was mesmerized by this Renoir number titled "Madame Henriot" during an exhibition at National Gallery of Art in DC a few years ago. Madame Henriot is reminiscent of the eighteenth-century portraits in pastel that Renoir admired. It is a subtle, nuanced work and one completely devoid of pretension. I thought I would try my luck and see if 1st Art Gallery could reproduce it. 

And they can! I picked 30x40" in size for the space over my fireplace mantel. 

Jenn took care of the rest of the ordering process. The painting was handpainted by an artist over a period of at least 10 days. Afterwards, it was dried and cured for a couple of weeks, then packed and ready for shipment. It took much longer to get to me because the painting was initially shipped to someone else, returned to the Gallery, then finally came home to its rightful owner. 
Picture above: Madame Henriot oil on canvas, reproduced by 1st Art Gallery, 30x40"

Their artist did such a great job at capturing the muse's delicate yet radiant smile, and serene yet brilliant gaze. The painting is so like a happy dream. 

The fluidity and lightness of the diaphanous fabric came alive through the artist's thinly applied strokes. 

I picked this transitional style frame from my favourite framing shop Art Gala (previously known as YM Art). 

The champagne-toned frame complements the pastel portrait painting. 

So this is it. The painting makes my living room feel so bright, and happy! 

Note: this is a sponsored post as the painting was provided to me by 1st Art Gallery, but all the opinions were my own. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Front Porch Flower Bed

Before I get into the mini front porch project, how was your Thanksgiving? This was the first long weekend, probably since this past summer, that we weren't traveling so it was nice to relax at home and catch up on some baking and cooking. 

I tried making this Apple Rose Tart for the first time. Manuela's video made it seem so easy! It's not too too difficult if the Gala apple slices didn't keep break apart on me. Why didn't I read the caption in the video more closely before dashing out to the grocery store? Manuela said "Red Delicious Apple"! Oh well, next time. The not-so-pretty apple tarts however turned out to be delicious. For holiday, I always like to make a dessert with apple as an ingredient - to me, apple + nutmeg + cinnamon = festivity. 

I recently purchased the Sansaire sous vide cooker and am loving it. It allowed me to more preciously control the doneness of steaks and pork loins with very little moisture loss. You can also use it to sous vide ribs, poultry, fish, eggs and vegetables,etc.. 

So this Thanksgiving we made sous vide five spice pork tenderloin with creamy mushroom ragout, and it was a hit. I find we are also eating a lot healthier and cleaner with this new sous vide cooker. Sansaire is super quiet, and I actually found the bubbling sound therapeutic. 

Now onto the porch project. This was what it used to look like. I had my heart set on that wrought iron picket fence for the longest time. I would've never got rid of it if it wasn't rusting on me, and pretty badly too. So every spring we would have to inspect the fence, remove those rusty panels, sand them down, then spray paint them to get rid of the rust. I grew tired of doing that. 

So I hired back the contractor who did the landscaping in our backyard to add a retaining wall along the flower bed. I like that it outlines my front porch garden, and gives it definition. 

So this is what my front porch looks like now after I parted with those rusty iron fences. The openness makes my garden look bigger so I am happy with the outcome. 

Now onto my favourite subject, art! I was approached by Jenn @ 1st Art Gallery to review their oil painting reproduction service. Here is a sneak peak of the painting I chose and the frame from a local framing shop. More details on this project to come. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Prague and Cesky Krumlov in October

Warning: this is a very long and photo-heavy post. 

A few weeks ago Anthony and I made a last-minute decision, and jetted off to Czech Republic for a short one-week break. I've always wanted to see Prague, but with so many other destinations on my travel bucket list to cross off, I just never got around to it. Plus flying into Prague is no walk in the park: there is no non-stop flight from Toronto to Prague; the thought of having to rush from one gate to another to catch connecting flights was off-putting. Nevertheless, I toughened up and decided to give this connecting flight business a try. I am so glad I did. We flew Air Canada into Frankfurt, then Lufthansa into Prague. The entire round-trip journey was a breeze, and I might just add I loved Lufthansa! Their jets were so clean and the air quality was actually not bad; their attendants were courteous and very helpful. Wasn't that refreshing for North American travelers?

 Picture above: Prague Old Town Square from the Old Town Square Tower, Church of Our Lady before Tyn

 Picture above: Prague Old Town Square from the Old Town Square Tower, Church of Our Lady before Tyn

I am going to summarize our trip into the following categories: weather, what to pack, hotel, transportation, architecture, art and food. 

We really lucked out on it while we were there. I've heard not so positive stories about Prague's moody weather in October including a rainstorm which led to shutting down Charles River so I was a tad concerned. September is supposedly the best month in the fall to visit Prague:  the town would be less crowded with tourists after the summer break; you'd get long hours of sunshine with little chances of rain; temperature would be mild and air be crisp. But we weren't free to get away in September so we had to give first week of October a shot. While we were there, the temperature hovered around 20C during the day, and 10C at night, a very typical and pleasant fall weather. It was cloudy at times but mostly sunny with a greyish blue sky.

 Picture above: the iconic Charles Bridge at night all lit up. Night sky in Prague was clear while we were there, perfect for photo ops.  

Picture above: Charles Bridge at night with Prague Castle in the far back. 

Picture above: Charles Bridge from the west bank of the Vltava River in Mala Strana 

Picture above: Charles Bridge from the west bank Mala Strana 

What to pack
Packing for Prague weather in the fall was a bit tricky. Mornings and nights tend to be chilly so you are going to need layers. It can however get pretty warm during the day when the sun comes out. So I packed a quilted hooded jacket and a short trench as outwears, and shirts and jeans for all the rest. 

Also pack very comfortable shoes, preferably those with air cushion and thick rubber soles. You can thank me later. The streets in Prague (or mostly the Old Town) are cobblestoned, and they are so harsh on your feet. Not to say that the unevenness forced our bodies to adjust our gaits to compensate - it worked different parts of our leg muscles so hard that at the end of the day our entire body was all achy and sore. 

 Picture above: the cobbled streets in Prague

Picture above: cobblestone streets in Cesky Krumlov

 Picture above: a mile long cobbled staircase leading up to Prague Castle

We stayed at Hotel Kings Court near the Municipal House, and it was one of the nicest hotels we've ever stayed at in Europe. The bedding and mattress was comparable to that at home - this means a lot to a person like me who is very picky in that department. We received a free upgrade to an executive suite, so rooms were airy and spacious. And the L'occitane Verbena toiletries were just the cherry on the cake! Breakfast buffet was sumptuous with so many selections that I lost count. Since our dollar goes so much further in Czech, I would suggest only booking a five-star hotel like Hotel Kings Court. 

Picture above: Hotel Kings Court in Prague

Other than the flights mentioned earlier in this post, there's not much to write about because we pretty much did everything on foot while we were there. My iPhone tracked my averaged daily steps at 15,000 while we were there. My husband took care of all the transportation so all I could remember was that it was smooth sailing all the way. He booked airport pickup and drop-off with Prague Airport Transfers. They were very reliable and their limos were very clean. 

We also took a couple of subway rides just to get the local experience. Prague Metro is probably the most efficient and cost-effective way to travel for places that are too far to walk to. A 24-hour day pass only works out to be CAD$6 (details on ticket fares please go to this link). There are three clearly colour-coded lines (red, yellow and green) with Mustek being the hub for the yellow & green lines; Florenc for red & yellow; and Muzeum for red and green. 

Picture above: graphic motifs at Prague subway station

People visit Prague for different reasons, but appreciating their architecture is always among one of them. Prague wears its history on its sleeve. Different empires and regimes left Prague a rich collection of architectural styles so broad that it can put London and Paris to shame. While walking through the Old Town, you can easily spot architectural styles such as Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and the list goes on. 

 Picture above: Prague Castle Matthias Gate, Titan sculptures. Did you notice that early arts and sculptures in Czech were pretty violet and depressing?

 Picture above: Obecní Dum (Municipal House), a typical Parisian Art Nouveau building

Picture above: Prague National Theatre, Renaissance Revival style

Prague Dancing House, Deconstructivism style

Picture above: Prague Kostel sv.Antonína, Gothic style

Picture above: Prague Goltz-Kinsky Palace, Baroque style

Art is everywhere in Prague, but you can find more contemporary art away from the heavily touristed Old Town. 

Picture above: love & peace locks at the Lennon Wall, Mala Strana

Picture above: enormous (and creepy) crawling baby sculptures by David Cerny at Museum Kampa

Unlike Museum Kampa which was cramped and stuffy and had very limited collections (and very rude staff to top it all), we had a much better experience at the National Gallery at Veletrzni Palace. It has five floors of arts tastefully curated by time and artist: most of them are permanent exhibitions of Czech artworks with some interesting short-term ones like Egon Schiele's avant-garde Expressionism artworks. I could've easily spent an entire day there if I wasn't pressed for time.

Picture above: Prague National Gallery at Veletrzni Palace (Fair Trade Palace)

Picture above: the famous Egon Schiele's expressionism self portrait, short-term exhibition at the National Gallery

Picture above: "The First Serially Produced Schizophrenia" by Jiri Cernicky

Picture above: probably the best-known Prague statue, the St. Wenceslas Monument at the Wenceslas Square

We were pleasantly surprised by how great the food was in Prague. There are numerous restaurants which allow you to go high or low to suit your food budget. We tried both with high at 2,500 CZK (approximately $140 CAD) for a 3-course dinner at a restaurant inside a five-star hotel; and low on average at 800 CZK for a quick lunch or dinner. You will comfortably find plenty of restaurants fitting in the 800-CZK range for a very pleasant lunch/dinner with an appetizer, a main dish and a drink. Tips were not expected but appreciated. An extra 100-CZK meant little to most of us but would certainly brighten up the day for those hardworking restaurant staff. 

Picture above: Beef goulash stewed in light beer with potato pancakes from Malostranská beseda

Picture above: Beer roasted pork knuckle, horseradish and mustard @ Restaurace Mlejnice

Picture above: inside the 100-year-old elegant Cafe Louvre

Picture above: Ricotta cake with lemon zest @ Cafe Louvre

To sum up our trip to Prague, I would say we loved it a lot. Anthony put it among the Top 3 European cities we've ever visited. I had only wished we had more time and perhaps we could've made a longer trip out of it by going to Vienna, Salzburg and Budapest as well. Alas, I don't do so well with a multi-destination trip because I hate to pack and unpack again and again. I am the type of traveler who likes to settle down and explore a place down to its last grain of sand. 

I will be back to write about our trip to Cesky Krumlov, a fairy tale town 3 hours away from Prague. 

Picture above: Cesky Krumlov, Vltava River

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